This is a short, informative summary of Herbal Preparations. The materials can be freshly gathered, or gathered in their season and dried for storage. After all, the plant may need to be gathered in one month, and needed to be used several down the line when it's buried in snow and dead. Some plants (ex. leafy greens) can be ingested as they are, while some can't (ex. barks and roots), and others are poisonous unless properly prepared. Although in most cases there is no 'right way' for herbal preparation, except as defined by the culture its preparer comes from. Each philosophy and type of 'healer' has their own way of doing things or beliefs in how the body behaves that is culturally rooted. These are, however, some of the more common methods.
The simplest and easiest preparation, it is produced by grinding the plant. This can be achieved through mortar & pestle, grinding stones, milling, etc. to grind the plant into a fine consistency. The plant, however, must be dried before attempting to make a powder. Wet herbs slide away from the grinder or mash up. Powders can, and sometimes must, also be produced from the dried remnants of a liquid preparation. This is more complicated as it's really doing two preparations, a liquid and a powder. The method for obtaining powder from a liquid preparation is simple, even if it takes a large amount of material; the extracting agent (water, alcohol, vinegar, etc) is boiled away, leaving a fine residue along the bottom of the container. This must be collected and ground. Also, considering that the liquid too has medicinal properties, some consider this method worthless and wasteful. However, since certain extracting agents (such as water) have poor preservative properties, they can ruin the mixture after just a few days. Powders can be stored much better, but remain wasteful in terms of how much material is used. Powders should be stored in a skin or glass/ceramic container. Leather shouldn't be used, as it soaks up moisture and transmits it into the container, ruining the powder. For an example of why moisture and powders don't mix in storage, try storing flour in a moist place without adequate protection... Powders can be applied through many methods:
- Added to liquids and drunk
- Snuffed up the sinuses
- Sprinkled across a wound/abrasion
A poultice is the needed mix of plants bruised/mashed and applied directly to the wound, held in place with a cloth that allows breathing. This method is good for deep and/or festering wounds. The dressing should be changed as needed. A compress is a cloth soaked in a liquid preparation and applied directly to the wound, best for sprains and bruises. For this method, make a big batch of infusion only if you can keep it warm throughout the night. If on the move, make a small batch at each stop for re-application, which should occur when needed.
An infusion is a aqueous preparation, using a liquid to extract the medicinal properties from plant matter. These methods often use heat as a catalyst, but other energy sources do exist.
A medical tea is archaically termed a tisane, and requires no more skill than to boil water and chop plant matter, as teas are made by bringing the water to boil, then taking it off the heat and adding the plant. Hot water is an excellent extracting agent for plant-based compounds. The materials can be either dried or fresh, usually with 1 teaspoon to 2 ounces of water ratio. Teas, for maximum affects, should be allowed to steep for 15-30 minutes. Then the plant matter (the marc) should be removed from the liquid (the menstruum), and the menstruum drunk. The marc can be discarded as seen fit, but it could have a ritualistic approach in some cultures as it is 'returned to the earth' or some such. One problem with tea, however is that as mentioned above, water is a horrible preservative, meaning that teas don't have a long shelf life, even in modern times with fridges. Teas are made quickly in the necessary amount and taken now, not tomorrow, as it will be ruined by then. Softer plant parts are best for making teas, as the tougher, more fibrous parts require the far higher temperatures found in decoction. Plants with a strong scent, even if unpleasant, should be covered while steeping, as the aromatic compounds are almost always medicinal, and will float away with the steam if given a chance. Also, plants high in mucilaginous compounds make a thick, almost gooey tea that soothes inflamed membranes in the mouth, throat, and digestive tract.
Decoctions are much stronger than tisanes. Here, the plant matter is added to the boiling liquid and kept there for 20-30 minutes, drawing out much more of the medicinal compounds - but it can destroy some of the more delicate compounds, such as the aromatics mentioned above. This is best for the tough, fibrous parts such as roots and barks. Like teas, they cannot be stored for any length of time.
With a solar infusion, a glass container of water containing plant matter is set in sunlight for several hours, allowing the infrared radiation to slightly heat the mixture, allowing for a gradual extraction of the beneficial compounds. This is best for delicate plants/parts, and the slower process allows for a better taste and better medicine. Lunar infusions harness the power of the moon, are are traditionally associated with ritual/ceremony. A crystal or glass bowl is set out during a full moon and filled with fresh spring water, and the plant parts are gently placed on the top of the water (the least disturbed the water, the better, or so rituals/ceremonies say). The crystal/glass focuses the light of the moon, transferring the energy into the spring water which gently extracts the compounds from the herbs, causing some to fall to the bottom while others remain suspended. As the morning sun reaches the horizon, the infusion is strained and drunken (often by bleary-eyed ritual participants, who stayed up all night chanting/what-have-you). In both cases, mirrors can be used to gather in extra light - usually when glass bowls are used in Lunar Infusions.
Tinctures, also known as extractions, are concentrated and preserved forms of liquid preparations, and because of their concentration, they're much easier to lug around than pots/cups of tea. Lasting longer than most other infusions, the drawback is, however, the fact that they take much longer to make - if you need them, you better have them already made. Tinctures start with a quantity of plant matter, dried or fresh. This is then added to a liquid extracting agent, most often an alcohol/water solution or vinegar. The most oft seen alcohol/water solution is a 50/50 ratio, which means a tad stronger than Smirnoff vodka (which is 40/60). Given the technological level of Adylheim, however, 50/50 would be common in the form of stronger spirits. This means that dried plants make a stronger tincture than fresh plants, as the latter are 70%-90% water on average. Which means that for tinctures that need to be made with fresh material, it's often necessary to boil off some of the water. To make the tincture itself, put the plant in the bottom of a vessel that will take a tight lid, then pour the liquid over it until covered. Stopper the lid and place it in a dark and cool spot. For the next fourteen days, give it a healthy shake to help the extraction along. On the 15th day, use a fine cloth to strain the liquid into a new vessel. Make sure to squeeze every last drop of liquid out of the material using whatever tools are available - your hands, a press, a rolling pin... For plant requiring a higher alcohol content than available for use, the plant can be macerated, which really means to let it soak for longer. Unless you leave it for a few months, when the plant material turns into a black gunk, then it can't harm the medicine - the alcohol can only extract so much from the plant, regardless of soaking time. Since tinctures are heavily concentrated, they are often proscribed in drop-dosages, ranging from five drops of the more powerful stuff to hundreds for the weakest. Add this to a glass of water and toss it back - and quickly, as they're often not the most tasty things. Tinctures can also be anywhere from amazingly fast acting (a few drops of lobelia extract under the tongue can stop a grand mal seizure in under a minute) to the kind of length that has people nagging you about taking your medicine.
Oils are made similar to tinctures (And ones requiring a good soaking can take as long to make), in that you take the plant matter and pour the extraction agent over it. In this case, the agent is hot (but not boiling) oil, and if kept heated, it can take as little as one hour to decant. Oils are applied by coating the area in them, but are often made into salves. Essential oils are also used in the production of perfumes. Salves combine oils, tinctures, and teas by combining them with beeswax, giving them a thick consistency that allows long-term application while softening the skin and treating it - which is good for burns and abrasions.